Weird Science- the Labs of Dr. Gallo

Tom Keske tkeske at
Sat May 15 22:40:43 EST 1999


Dr. Robert Charles Gallo, in a just world, would be regarded
as a prime suspect in the profound murder mystery that is known
as the AIDS epidemic.

Dr. Gallo acquired a certain notoriety for this attempts to steal
credit for "discovering" the AIDS virus, from the French research
team of Luc Montagnier.   This overblown affair is a distraction
from intrigues far more serious.

Dr. Gallo, in this college days, developed his skills in surgery by
slaying scores of mice in a makeshift laboratory over his mother's
garage. [1].  Between 1967 and 1974, preceding the outbreak of
AIDS, he did extensive research into immune-destroying
microorganisms.  Much of this "cancer research" was under the
auspices of Litton Bionetics, Bionetics Research Labs, and other
known biological weapons contractors [2]

In 1975, the notorious, military biological war lab at Fort Detrick,
Maryland changed its name to a "cancer research facility",
under the authority of Gallo's NCI. [1].

Not all of Gallo's employees were happy campers, but
speaking out was difficult.  Said one employee, "Even
though you stopped working there, you had to leave in
harmony with your boss, or your chances of succeeding
outside were practically zero.  It was practically impossible
to find an honest person at that place."  The woman who
told so, requesting anonymity, knew three colleagues
who had committed suicide.

What was going in this lab that was plagued by mysterious deaths
and an intimidating atmosphere of silence?  An undeniable record
of published research gives a clear picture.

Since the early 1970s, Gallo's team investigated a veritable zoo
of retroviruses, making cocktails of multiple viruses, providing
the opportunity for exchanges of genetic materials between
the viruses, as well as with the cultured cells.

Retroviruses, you  should remember, are the same category
of virus that includes AIDS.   AIDS is believed to be derived
from SIV, a simian retrovirus, found in monkeys and chimps.

Gallo's virus cocktails included simian sarcoma viruses
from monkeys, mice retroviruses, and Visna, another sheep
retrovirus that is also similar to AIDS.  The viruses and cells
involved in the experiments also involved apes, cats, dogs,
hamsters, and humans.

Gallo was ruthless and Machiavellian in his quest for
personal glory.

In 1975, one of his assistants, Doris Morgan, discovered
IL-2, a protein stimulating the growth of T-cells.  Gallo
demanded that her team stop working on "useless molecules."

Later, Gallo would come back and claim the credit for
discovering IL-2, also known as Interleukin-2.

When another researcher, Kalyanaraman, left Gallo's
lab to work for the CDC, Gallo told him, "You ain't
never going to have any retroviruses", and added,
"I will destroy you."

In 1975, Gallo published articles describing the first
human retrovirus, called HL-23.  This corresponds to
what Gallo would later rename as HTLV-1.

The 1975 published research also makes it clear that
Gallo and Gillespie succeeded in hybridizing the
human HL-23 virus with other animal retroviruses [3].

Gallo did not wish to give out his virus to other labs.
His subordinates told how they were ordered to contaminate
the tumor cells before they were delivered to outside labs.

Gallo defended his behavior by saying "nevertheless, I'm
more honest to others than they are to me."

For a period of time in the early 1980s, Gallo and his
colleague Max Essex would be the only researchers in the
entire United States who received  federal research money
to investigate the cause of AIDS.

What seeming clairvoyance, that this unique honor was
bestowed on a man who had spent years manipulating
retroviruses.  It was not yet known that AIDS
would turn out to be a retrovirus.

Unless, of course, it is yet another case of the fox
investigating the chicken coop.

On the contrary,  Gallo at first furiously resisted the
idea that AIDS might be caused by a retrovirus.

Arthur Levine, a cancer researcher, phoned Gallo
in 1982 and asked if knew what was happening to gay men
in New York and San Francisco. Gallo said that he had not
heard about it.  Levine proposed that AIDS might be caused
by something related to Gallo's virus, HTLV.  Gallo told
him "It is interesting", and simply hung up the receiver.

Gallo's close colleague, the renowned Harvard scientist
Max Essex, started his own investigation, without
Gallo's knowledge, to see if HTLV was related to AIDS.

When Gallo found out, he exploded furiously- "How can
you collaborate with me, when you are doing stuff behind
my back?"   For a solid 45 minutes, he berated Essex and
another researcher, Mullins [1].

To others, it seemed clear that something similar to HTLV
might be causing AIDS.   The similarities of the symptoms
of AIDS, and those produced by other retroviruses that Gallo,
Don Francis, and Max Essex had been studying, seemed
obvious enough.  What made Gallo so inexplicably
reluctant to study the possibility?

One possibility suggests itself- Gallo did not want it revealed
that his own hybridization experiments may have unleashed
the new monster.  Perhaps it also occurred to Gallo that
right-wing military and intelligence operatives connected
with his labs had taken the new monster and used it to
infect the country's most hated minority.

With Gallo's fame at a peak in 1989, he has a last gala
performance, in which he was given an audience by the
Pope.  Between Gallo and the Pope, there was a common
personal link- their friend Wolf Smuzness, who ran the
hepatitis B vaccine trials on gay guinea pigs, immediately
before AIDS first broke out [1].

Tom Keske
Boston, Mass.

[1] AIDS, the Human factor,

[2] Gulf War Syndrome and Treason,

[3] Band Played On, Randy Shilts,
      John Crewdson: The great AIDS quest, Chicago Tribune
      Seth Roberts: RAT,  Spy

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